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Charleston among fastest-growing metro hubs in life sciences — here’s why

Hollie Moore //June 7, 2024//

Leading the life sciences establishment success in the Lowcountry is SCBio, an organization aimed to ensure that companies in the industry have the resources they need to be successful. (Photo/DepositPhotos)

Leading the life sciences establishment success in the Lowcountry is SCBio, an organization aimed to ensure that companies in the industry have the resources they need to be successful. (Photo/DepositPhotos)

Leading the life sciences establishment success in the Lowcountry is SCBio, an organization aimed to ensure that companies in the industry have the resources they need to be successful. (Photo/DepositPhotos)

Leading the life sciences establishment success in the Lowcountry is SCBio, an organization aimed to ensure that companies in the industry have the resources they need to be successful. (Photo/DepositPhotos)

Charleston among fastest-growing metro hubs in life sciences — here’s why

Hollie Moore //June 7, 2024//

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Over the span of four years, Charleston was the fastest growing life sciences metro hub in the country among 24 leading metro competitors, according to a recent ranking. 

Between 2018 to 2022, the amount of life sciences establishments in Charleston grew by 67%, according to  CommercialCafe, an online commercial real estate listing service. 

Industry and state leaders look to keep that momentum going — with their gaze firmly fixed on Charleston — as the region continues to see an influx of new residents, and with it, tech talent.

Leading the life sciences establishment success in the Lowcountry is SCBio, an organization aimed to ensure that companies in the industry have the resources they need to be successful.  

“Entrepreneurship is a really big focus of ours,” James Chappell, president and CEO of SCbio, said. “But because we’re still a growing ecosystem, we don’t have the built-in mentors and networks that a Boston, Cambridge, or Bay Area has.” 

Chappell recognizes that people are flocking to Charleston and Greenville in large numbers, and so is the talent in the life sciences sector. 

“What we have to show people is yes, we’ve had this growth,” Chappell said. “But we’re not satisfied with that that so we’re making real investments from the state level, from the university level and we’re going to continue to grow.” 

Life sciences is now one of the top three priority areas for the South Carolina Chamber of Commerce, which is a “huge shift of thinking” from previous years, according to Chappell.  

And for good reason. According to SCbio’s website, South Carolina’s life sciences industry – which includes biotech, pharmaceuticals, biomedical technologies, medical devices, health IT, bio-ag and related areas — has an annual economic impact of $26 billion, and counts over 1,000 firms statewide 

“We want South Carolina to be the most friendly and the most attractive place to open and grow a science company in the country and in the world,” Chappell said. “We already have a good business climate, but we want to continue to make sure that it’s set up to be focused on those sorts of jobs.” 

Contributing to this increasing life sciences development in Charleston is the comparably high percentage of people who hold degrees in life sciences related fields. Of Charleston residents over 25-years-old, 18% carry one of these degrees, outranking higher competitors such as Indianapolis, Salt Lake City and Phoenix, according to CommericalCafe’s ranking. 

Chappell credits much of the growth in Charleston and state to the Medical University of South Carolina.  

“It really starts with the research universities,” Chappell said. “MUSC is our most underrated asset.” 

MUSC is home to 55 active life sciences startup companies and has been listed fourth in the nation for patents issued per capita over the last 10 years, Chief Innovation Officer Jesse Goodwin said.  

“There’s been a lot of groundwork laid over the last 10 years both within the state and at MUSC that supports life science development,” Goodwin said. 

Currently, one of the challenges Charleston faces is the lack of lab space for entrepreneurs. Beginning in July, MUSC will be opening Blue Sky Labs, kickstarting MUSC President David Cole’s plan to create an innovation district in Charleston. 

This location will provide “a place for scientists and other experts who want to hone their creations, test new concepts and share space and ideas with fellow innovators,” according to the MUSC website 

“The innovation district that can serve as a catalyst for a new cures,” Goodwin said. “And also serving to elevate the community all around by creating new jobs and elevating the local knowledge economy.” 

In addition to the innovation addition, Charleston will also soon be the host of SCbioDrive Accelerator for Emerging Life Science Companies. The program will draw in investors, companies and MassBio companies on the last week of the course to create a buzz around life sciences in the Charleston area.  

Chappell says they are doing a lot to build the business element of the life sciences sector by ensuring that if companies have the science, they aren’t lacking the business resources to succeed. 

“As I always tell people, ‘come be a big fish in a fast growing pond,’” Chappell said.

 

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